Expedition 39 successfully ended last night with the safe return to Earth of Koichi Wakata, Mikhail Tyurin and Rick Mastracchio. Now Expedition 40 begins with the trio of astronauts still on the International Space Station.

Six Months Later, Expedition 39 Safely Returns to Earth

Soyuz TMA-11M coming in for a soft-enough landing. Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Expedition 39 consisted of Commander Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Soyuz Commander Mikhail Tyurin of Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency and Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio of NASA. The crew had been aboard the space station since November, logging more than 3,000 orbits covering 79 million miles in 188 days. Individually, Wakata has accumulated 348 days in space over four missions, Tyurin has accumulated 532 days in space over three missions, and Mastracchio has accumulated 228 days over four missions.

Expedition 39 conducted research on the human immune system (activation and suppression) including protein crystal growth related to nuerodegenerative conditions. They also took up gardening, installing a plant growth chamber, and sent home some beautifulphotos. The mission was supplied by three cargo spacecraft: the Russian Progress resupply vehicle, Orbital Sciences' Cygnus cargo ship and SpaceX's Dragon.

As the hatch closed on their mission, Expedition 40 began with Commander Steve Swanson of NASA and Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemye of Roscosmos remaining aboard the International Space Station. The trio launched on March 25th with a slight hiccup extending their journey. They will be joined by another trio of astronauts in two weeks.

Six Months Later, Expedition 39 Safely Returns to Earth

Closing the hatch to Soyuz. Image credit: NASA TV

Soyuz TMA-11M undocked Rassvet module at 6:36 pm, on the Earth-facing side with a great view of Mongolia. After a deorbiting burn and a parachute-slowed decent, the astronauts landed in the steppes of Kazakhstan at 9:58pm (7:58 am Wednesday local time).

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